The third edition of the Ethnografilm Festival took place from the 29th of March to the 2nd April 2016 at Ciné 13, Paris. With around 100 films and footage shot in a several dozen countries worldwide, the Ethnografilm Festival is a unique free festival for directors of documentary films that build understanding of social realities. 

We sat down with the Festival director, Wesley Shrum, to find out more…

What’s different about Ethnografilm?

Wesley Shrum: Ethnografilm is a non-fiction film festival for directors. It’s a film festival, but in many ways it’s more like a conference with extraordinary films.

The Festival takes place over four days, during which we typically watch 2 hours of film and then we have a discussion, then watch more films and discuss them and so on. The great thing about this festival is directors don’t just watch their film, take a bow and leave. They watch the films! Some of the best directors have been here for the whole time. The discussions are a bit like a peer-review process.

What kind of films are there in this year’s festival? Is there a theme?

Wesley Shrum: There are about 100 films in this year’s festival, with footage shot in several dozen countries. It’s a really global festival. In 2016 we’re also making a film for the International Year of Global Understanding - we’ve asked directors to select a section of their film that they think best represents global understanding.

A lot of our film-makers are academics, and we have a special category for academic features. Overall there’s a huge variety of non-fiction films. We’ve even shown animations that represent stories from research.

There isn’t a theme as such, but I guess you could say that we show ‘films for the people’. Quite a lot of the films this year are about political activism, but that’s not why they were selected – they were selected because of their approach to film-making.

This is the third year the Festival has been held in Paris. How would you like to see it evolve in the future?

Wesley Shrum: In addition to the Festival in Paris we’ve organized a number of sub-festivals in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Kerala, India. This year we’re probably going to expand to Canada and Barcelona as well.

But we don’t necessarily want the Festival to get bigger! We think we have a great model – the vast majority of directors are present, and the size and ambiance of Ciné 13 give it a special intimacy. Ciné 13 is, in my view, the best fringe theatre in the world. It’s split over several different levels, which gives us lots of spaces for break-out discussions and for talking over a glass of wine. If I had to say how the festival should evolve, I’d say next year the food and wine will be even better!

The next Ethnografilm takes place from April 11 through April 15, 2017. Ethnografilm is co-sponsored by the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S).